Pitching duels are great. There's nothing better than two aces going head to head, taking turns mowing down the opposing lineup. As the game wears on, the tension rises and every pitch is magnified. Every hitters' count becomes an opportunity to slip up. Every defensive play a sigh of relief.
Tonight was just such a game. Drew Smyly had all of his best stuff, but came up against a worthy opponent in Cy . . .
Well maybe not.
Look, Drew Smyly was great. This was his line: Eight innings pitched, no runs, one hit, eleven strikeouts, two walks. He mixed his pitches masterfully—53 fastballs, 22 cutters, 19 sliders, and 9 changeups—and changed location all over the strike zone. He backed hitters up with his fastball and then put them away with sharp breaking balls below the zone, or slowed their bat down with offspeed stuff and then put them away with rising fastballs above the zone. He was on.
But on the other side of the ball, it was a frustrating day. Joe Kelly isn't a great pitcher to begin with, but he does have some decent stuff. However, when the game started, it was immediately clear that something was wrong. Kelly throws both a four-seam fastball and a two-seam fastball, and while both are pretty straight, they have mid-90s velocity. He throws a biting slider with high-80s velocity. But to start off tonight's game, Kelly was throwing what looked like a straight fastball right at 90 mph. And he couldn't control it, either.
He walked Logan Forsythe, got Logan Morrison to ground out (because, who doesn't?), and then he walked Evan Longoria. Kelly got behind in a 3-1 count to Corey Dickerson, and then reared back and blew two low sinkers past Dickerson's big swings for the strikeout. They were the two hardest pitches Kelly threw all night. But after the second one, he clearly winced while rotating his shoulder, was examined on the mound by the Boston medical staff, and was removed from the game with what is currently being called a right shoulder impingement.
After that, it was a parade of Boston relievers throwing scoreless innings: Heath Hembree (just up from Triple-A) Robbie Ross Jr., Junichi Tazawa, and Craig Kimbrell rounded out the last 8.1 innings of regulation with three hits, seven strikeouts, and one walk. Yes, those last two relievers are very good, but on the whole this was a group against which it would have been a real shame to waste Smyly's efforts.
There was one moment when it looked like a bout of bad sequencing was going to do a Rays pitcher in once again. Smyly only allowed three hitters to reach base, but they all came in the bottom of the third inning.
Smyly lost his release point and walked both Chris Young and Ryan Hanigan. Then Jackie Bradley Jr. grounded a pitch up the middle. If there were any outs, the Sox might have thought about sending Young, but Kevin Kiermaier charged the grounder hard, like he always does, putting himself in a good position to make a throw, and the Boston third base coach opted not to test Kiermaier's arm.
Smyly, now facing the top of the order with the bases loaded and no outs, got himself together in a hurry. He worked Mookie Betts inside and out, inducing a groundball to third base on an inside fastball. Longoria fielded cleanly and threw home in plenty of time for the force. Up next, Dustin Pedroia worked a seven pitch at bat, which finally ended in a groundball to shortstop. There was a slight hitch as Brad Miller appeared to struggle to get the ball out of his glove, but he got it free in time, and a strong turn by Logan Forsythe at second ended the only danger Smyly would face on the day.
Offense: Better Late Than Never
Drew Smyly was relieved for the ninth inning by Erasmo Ramirez, who had started just four days ago. Ramirez was very sharp, though, and delivered the game into extra innings, where the Rays offense finally got some relievers they could handle.
The first batter that righty Matt Barnes faced was Kevin Kiermaier, and in a 2-2 count, he hung him a curve. It was a perfect pitch to hit, and the Outlaw did not miss, sending a majestic fly ball out to deep right field. Barnes got two outs from Curt Casali and Logan Morrison, but Forsythe knocked a double off the monster, and after working ahead in the count, Longoria was given an intentional walk.
The Red Sox opted for lefty Tommy Layne to face Corey Dickerson, and Kevin Cash sent in Brandon Guyer to pinch hit. Guyer hit a grounder to third base that really should have been an out, but Travis Shaw misplayed the bounce, and all runners were safe. Next up, Desmond Jennings flipped a liner the other way that bounced in play and then over the low wall for a two-run ground-rule double.
The insurance runs were nice, but Alex Colome saw to it that the Rays did not need them.
Some other notes:
- In the top of the sixth inning, Longoria hit a chopper back to the mound. Robbie Ross Jr.'s throw was high, forcing Hanley Ramirez to leap to make the catch, and come down off the bag, and then reach for it. The call on the field was safe, but the Red Sox challenged, and replay clearly showed that Ramirez found the bag before Longo's foot touched. It also showed that Longoria slowed up a bit, unaware that there would be a close play, rather than running hard through the bag. Not a good look, if you're someone who gets upset by things like that.
- Both Longoria and Morrison deserve extra attention for a pair of terrible at bats they gave against Junichi Tazawa in the eighth inning after Forsythe had worked a walk. Tazawa has a really good splitter, which he likes to throw beneath the zone. To face him, you have to lay off it and force him to at least hit the bottom of the zone occasionally. They did not, swinging multiple times at pitches they had zero chance of hitting. Better approach, guys.
- Logan Morrison went 0-5, but he actually put bat to ball nicely two times, hitting fly balls that looked good out of the batters box . . . but then just sort of didn't go anywhere. It was odd.
- Morrison also crashed into Drew Smyly while the two were chasing a popup in foul territory. Every one was okay, but hurting Smyly would have surely brought the wrath of already irate Rays fans.
- Logan Forsythe gets a shoutout for an excellent game in what was otherwise a poor offensive showing for the team. He worked quality at bats every time up, hit a double, a single, and collected two walks, and also stole a base to put himself in scoring position. And his fielding was slick.
- Clearly, a part of Smyly's (and the Rays' generally) plan against David Ortiz is to keep him backed off the plate with fastballs down and in, and to work secondary pitches off the outside.
- Logan Forsythe is not looking breaking ball in the zone on the first pitch. Twice, Boston pitchers froze him with good pitches to hit to start the at bats. As noted, though, Frosty won the day anyway.
- It's much better to win a game like this than to lose it.
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